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Assessing non-metro recovery across two continents: issues and limitations
Edward J. Blakely Honorary Professor, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney, Australia, and Extraordinary Professor of Economic Policy, Vaal Triangle Campus, North-West University, South Africa, and Peter M.J. Fisher Adjunct Professor, School of Global, Urban, and Social Studies, RMIT University, Australia
Abstract
Rural and remote areas of countries such as Australia and the United States are less well-resourced and often poorer than their city counterparts. When a disaster strikes, therefore, their long-term recovery can be impeded by being situated ‘over the horizon’. Nonetheless, they are likely to enjoy higher social capital, with ‘locals’ banding together to help restore economic and social life in the wake of a calamitous incident. At the same time, a repeat of extreme events, springing in part from alteration to the landscape through intense human occupation, threatens to derail sustainable recovery processes everywhere, suggesting that renewed emphasis needs to be placed on prepared- ness. Improved metrics are also required, spanning both pre- and post-disaster phases, to determine effectiveness. Moreover, a focus on the ‘hardening’ of towns offers a better return in limiting damage and potentially hastens the speed of recovery should these places later fall victim to extreme events.
Keywords: non-metro, preparedness, rescue and recovery, return intervals, rural, remote, and small fringe communities, social capital
Introduction

The objective of this paper is to shed light on the critical issues that continue to con- front the rising number of rural, remote, and small fringe communities that have suffered large-scale disasters in recent years. These communities seem to be at the epicentre of many natural disasters, such as the destructive earthquakes and floods in countries such as Pakistan, Philippines, and Nepal. The impacts range from prop- erty and infrastructural damage (insured and uninsured losses), deaths and injuries, stock, crop, and other agricultural losses, and the destruction of wildlife habitats and even iconic landscapes. Climate-related disasters alone are predicted to affect some 375 million people in 2015, up from 263 million in 2010 (Ashdown, 2013).
Small places are less able to respond quickly to disasters because they are not critical parts of the global economic infrastructure and they have a less powerful political voice. Moreover, they have less capacity to tap into the human capital and material resources found in larger, more recognised seats of government.
Methods
This paper is based on observations stemming from close analysis of recovery in sev- eral non-metropolitan areas of which the authors have first-hand knowledge.  The
© 2016 The Author(s). Disasters © Overseas Development Institute, 2016
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
 
research approach is grounded in policy analysis frameworks honed by Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky (1979, p. xxiii), in which they assert that: ‘The study of imple- mentation (projects, programs and issues related to rebuilding) requires understanding that apparently simple sequences of events depend on complex chains of reciprocal interaction’. Moreover, they show that a case or a set of cases yields better understand- ing of the policy flaws that underpin action or inaction.
This evaluation follows the grounded theory approach developed by Strauss and Corbin (1994), from which it derives action propositions. Policy concepts emerge from the case-study information, avoiding the application of hypothetical constructs. Generalisations materialise based on inferences from the cases, generating insights into observed issues and phenomena. This approach is employed because there is no systematic cross-national data that disaster management specialists can use to form basic rubrics to forge implementation strategies or to create policy frameworks (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, 1994).
Understanding disasters
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2012, p. 5) offers the fol- lowing working definition of a disaster:
Severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs and that may require external support for recovery.
The impact of a single event can be compounded by the triggering of one or two further catastrophic incidents, such as the mudslide in Chile in 2010, which followed torrential rain, or the pernicious sequence of drought, heatwave, wildfire—the hotter it gets, the drier it gets, and so on and so forth—experienced in Australia in 2009 (see Figure 1) and the United States in 2012 and 2013, posing a threat to water security (Schär et al., 2004).
The primary event can also have ‘lag impacts’, such as disease caused by flood- waters affecting sanitation and spillage into soils. The fires in Canberra, Australia, in January 2003, for instance, led to the pollution of the city’s water supply, with poly aromatic hydrocarbons following torrential rain across its catchments. Water authori- ties, made wiser by this event, acted to protect Melbourne’s drinking water after Black Saturday on 7 February 2009 by sending water from dams in fire-affected catchments to those that were not affected via established  pipelines/aqueducts.
Of course, natural or man-made disasters that affect crops, farms, vineyards, and other agriculture or agricultural supports have long-term implications for food produc- tion and security. Disruptions, therefore, have far-reaching implications for national accounts as well.
 
Figure 1. The fire in Murrindindi, Victoria, Australia, February    2009
Notes: the sinister trappings of the Murrindindi fire in the ranges beyond Healesville on Black Saturday, 7 February 2009.
Source: Rosemary Langmaid.
Distinguishing between response and recovery
Two distinct post-disaster phases can be identified: response/relief; and recovery/ rebuilding. The former may not always see people stranded or stuck, as, for example, with an oil spill. Rebuilding clearly is an intrinsic part of recovery, but recovery also necessitates social and cultural rehabilitation.
Furthermore, the distinction between rescue/emergency/response and recovery/ rebuilding is sensitive to the country in question: the recovery phase in developed countries may not begin until the response phase has run its course. During the Black
Saturday bushfires in Kinglake and Marysville, Australia, in 2009, for instance, the
coroner had to complete her work first, which took several weeks. Consequently, there can be short- and longer-term responses, such as only rebuilding in less vulnerable places, or not doing so at all.
Can recovery be defined and measured accurately?
The Association of Bay Area Governments (2010, p. 3) in California has defined long- term recovery as ‘a process of restoring a community to a stable and functional state,
 
Figure 2. Relief operations in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, after Hurricane Sandy, October 2012
Source: author (Edward Blakely).
given the inevitable changes that result from a major disaster’. Repairing, replacing, or rebuilding property are examples of such recovery. Yet, it remains important to have a way or ways of tracking recovery. Traditional benchmarks, such as per- capita gross domestic product, population growth, unemployment, and health- and education-related outcomes, including infant mortality and high school graduation rates, rarely are available at the town scale, and those that are, lack a sufficient cross section. Furthermore, owing to the overlay of macroeconomic decline affecting some towns it may be difficult to come up with broad baseline data against which improve- ments can be measured—that is, depressed rural areas may seek to recover beyond their pre-disaster state.
The process used to organise recovery after the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995
provides a developmental model for measuring progress towards recovery goals (Hayashi, 2011). In particular, Hyogo Prefecture was able to meet three key numerical targets: to rebuild all damaged housing units in three years; to remove all temporary housing within five years; and to complete physical recovery in 10 years. According to Hayashi (2007, p. 415), ‘having numerical targets was critical to directing and motivating all the stakeholders, including the national government’s investment, and it proved to be the foundation for Japan’s fundamental approach to recovery following
 
the 1995 earthquake’. Anglin (2011) sheds further light on the issue by presenting a checklist pertaining to social infrastructure critical to the affected region. For instance: ‘Are major institutions involved in community decisions?’; ‘Is the local culture con- ducive to the economic adaptation?’; and ‘Has local government created a fiscal and legal basis for growth?’. Similarly, Voith (2011) has outlined the practical means that can be deployed to rate the success or otherwise of economic recovery. And Pressman and Wildavsky (1979) emphasise, in relation to successful implementation, that an ever-increasing circle of parties add complexity, introduce delays, and ultimately diffuse recovery goals.
Defining a non-metro as opposed to a metro area
Non-metro areas are affected, for instance, by drought—a creeping disaster—far more than their city counterparts, changing the configuration of the landscape deeply and sharply for years subsequently. Moreover, they alter animal habitats and prevent the presence of some crops and animals, such as cattle and sheep, disrupting the eco- nomic life of many communities that lie near or in the midst of these zones. This form of hardship is something that city dwellers usually only experience in terms of food prices or water restrictions. For non-metro areas, by contrast, the entire life- cycle and ecosystem can be set back for countless years. Moreover, rural areas are pre- dominant on lists of the most costly weather-related disasters (see Box 1).
A simple dichotomy between rural and city, though, is becoming blurred around the edges, particularly in the developed world where once isolated regions are undergoing ‘urbanisation’ (Salt, 2012). ‘Sea- and tree-changers’ are moving from cities in Australia and the western US to storm-surge or fire-prone non-metro and peri-urban areas in unprecedented numbers, vis-à-vis ‘wild–urban interfaces’ (WUIs) (Rif kin, 2014).
 
These are not ‘rural and remote areas’ in the traditional sense; rather, they enjoy close connections with cities that can buffer them partially from the worst economic effects of a disaster. At the same time, however, they can be more hazardous places in which to live. In particular, the way in which new dwellings are situated on the landscape creates a greater fire hazard, since flames can spread deeply into treed areas. Furthermore, residences frequently are away from good roads, making them harder to access and fires harder to deal with when they emerge. New inhabitants also can alter vegetation and wildlife patterns with marked impacts on the potential for fire and flooding—they have little feel for the ecology owing to being in city workplaces for much of the day. Lastly, city-siders can bring bad habits, such as ‘staying and fighting’, heightening the risks to fire and rescue personnel, and not knowing how to evacuate properly or where to go.
This ‘connectedness’ also plays out at a smaller scale in places that, while distant from big cities, are within easy reach of large regional centres (see Figure 3). In addition, high-speed internet is acting to limit the sense of isolation. Proximity to larger places, however, does not always mean that a community will be better posi-
tioned to weather the worst ramifications of a disaster in comparison to its more remote counterparts, as seen along parts of the New Jersey coast hit hard by Hurricane Sandy (owing to inadequate roads and old sewerage systems).
Figure 3. Flooding in Carisbrook, Victoria, Australia, January    2011
Note: This small town is a rural settlement that nowadays is an outlier of the manufacturing and service centre of Maryborough in the Shire of Central  Goldfields.
Source: Central Goldfields Shire  Council.
 
Nevertheless, there are still truly remote, isolated places where the local economy may be composed of little more than one or two ‘industries’. Examples include the Australian towns of Marysville in central Victoria (retail and hospitality), Wilcannia in the west of New South Wales (arts and crafts), and Malanda and Milla Milla (sugar) in north Queensland. The economic resilience of these towns is wafer  thin.
Social cohesiveness, pivotal to the pace of recovery, rises as one progresses down this hierarchy. By contrast, towns situated within the urban fields of major cities can be expected to have less cohesiveness with tree-change residents often regarding them as places to bed down at night or on a weekend. In the wake of a disaster, many may decide to pack up and return to the city.
Case studies across two continents
Few countries in the developed world have chosen so far to establish standing national recovery programmes or authorities, despite a litany of cyclones, floods, hurricanes, super storms, tornadoes, and wildfires (Burby, 2006). Curiously, some of the more profound examples of national intervention are to be found in developing countries. The following subsections of the paper examine a number of recent disasters in the rural US and Australia to rate the differing recovery responses of governments and
non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
US
Event 1
The southwest of the US has become the site of multiple disasters in recent years, notably the major tornado in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex on 3 April 2012.
Response
A Tornado Recovery Center was established following this tornado, offering low- interest federal disaster loans. Provisions included repair/rebuilding guidelines/emer- gency home repair assistance and a free tree supply. In addition, a recovery effort site and a weather alert system came into being.
Event 2
A double disaster occurred in Texas between June and August 2012. A severe drought and ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ conditions in much of the state led to a cascade of large-scale wildfires, as well as the outbreak of a deadly variant of West Nile Disease.
Response
The reinsurance company, United, set up help/expertise internet links, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offered support to communities for rescue and disaster mitigation. FEMA provides a wide range of services, such as promoting mitigation and preparedness, sponsoring studies that reduce the effects of
 
natural disasters through engineering measures, and encouraging building away from floodplains, seismically active areas, and hillsides and wetlands. It advocates as well ‘safe development’ practices, but these have become ensnared in a patchwork of fed- eral, state, and local regulations. FEMA’s mission, though, is not long-term recovery, but rescue and avoiding or lessening the load in this respect through mitigation. Recovery is left to state agencies and local governments. An impressive example is the Regional Disaster Resilience Initiative of the Association of Bay Area Govern- ments (2013), stemming from earthquakes and fires in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is not only a planning tool, but also encompasses ready-to-go provisions in the aftermath of an event. Interestingly, the strategy stems from a grouping of local gov- ernments, rather than from the state level.
Event 3
Hurricane Sandy struck the entire eastern seaboard of the US (and Canada) in October 2012, hitting New Jersey and New York especially hard (Tollefson, 2013a). A storm surge in New York City on 29 October flooded streets, tunnels, and subway lines (Yaro and Kooris, 2012) and cut power in and around the metropolitan area. Small towns along the northeast coast of the US, comprising recreational and retirement areas and retreats, were also badly affected. For instance, tidal surge overwhelmed the 50 kilometres of waterways in the town of Moonachie, located 25 kilometres west of New York City, engulfing streets with rushing water and forcing people to take immediate alternative shelter. A few communities along the New Jersey coast, which had become full-time living areas over the past two dec- ades (see Figure 4), were devastated. Nearly 40,000 people were left without homes
Figure 4. Flood damage caused to seafront homes in Queens, New York, by Hurricane Sandy,  October 2012
Source: author (Edward Blakely).
 
and in some cases with little buildable land for reconstructing them. They lacked the stronger, well-developed infrastructure of most urban areas: some still have small sewerage plants designed for part-year residences and road networks that were never intended for regular year-round traffic.
Damage in the US as a whole amounted to USD 65 billion.
Response
The Senate passed the USD 50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill and President Barack Obama signed it into law in late January 2013. In addition, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on 15 November 2012 the creation of three bodies—the NYS 2100 Commission, the NYS Ready Commission, and the NYS Respond Commission—to review comprehensively and to make specific recommenda- tions on the overhaul of the state’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities. The state also made provision for another super storm within two years. New York City, for instance, is upgrading its water system, shifting the focus from new dams or silt traps to managing reservoirs using software that automatically incor- porates short-term weather forecasts and seasonal climatic predictions. This will help water managers to address droughts and floods (Tollefson, 2013b). Meanwhile, Staten Island (one of the five boroughs of New York City) has initiated a property buy- back scheme in line with a federal initiative to reduce the density of low-lying coastal populations. Properties no longer qualify (since 2014) for coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program unless they are two metres above the new storm surge flood level. If they do not meet this benchmark they face insurance premium hikes of between USD 20,000 and 150,000 per year. This policy to protect businesses, houses, and key infrastructure applies to at least 350 counties across the country, extending from Dallas, TX, and Nashville, TN, to Denver, CO, and Tulsa, OK (White House, 2015). Furthermore, Indiana, Montana, New York, and Wisconsin have adopted state-wide standards that either meet or exceed this new federal standard. New businesses have sprung up to raise houses, insulating them from destruction in the short term, but not against expected sea-level rise in the long term. In addition, Klein (2014, p. 44) notes how ‘new luxury real estate developments are marketing private disaster infrastructure to would-be residents—everything from emergency lighting to natural-gas-powered pumps and generators to thirteen-foot floodgates and water- tight rooms sealed “submarine-style”, in the case of a new Manhattan condominium’.
Australia
Event 1
The Black Saturday fires that razed Melbourne’s peri-urban areas and other parts of the state of Victoria on 7 February 2009 claimed the lives of 173 people and an esti- mated one million animals. They ravished 450,000 hectares of land, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings, and injured 414 people and displaced 7,562 others. The McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index on that day was 300, making for a contagion equivalent to the destructive effect of 15 Hiroshima atomic blasts. Many of the burnt-out homes
 
were along ridge lines with once spectacular views (Fisher, 2012). The intensity of the heat in parts of Marysville was such that some houses literally exploded (see Figure 5). Interestingly, a Country Fire Authority firefighter in the town on that night promoted the practice of shutting tight all doors and windows. When the radiant heat finally arrived in vast quantities, the aluminium window frames expanded, popping the glass panes, and allowing the inferno to rush inside—like an egg in a microwave oven. The problem was that the expansion coincided (in both length and height) with the onset of the flames.
The Victorian town of Marysville was all but destroyed by the fires. One-half of jobs were in just two sectors, hospitality and the retail trade, and the magnets, the guest houses, and the nostalgia associated with its Edwardian and Victorian build- ings on the main street were decimated, rather than simply damaged as in a flood. The ‘catastrophic’ fire danger rating for the northern edge of Melbourne is pro- jected to shift from the current 1-in-33-year frequency level to 1-in-3 by 2050 (Mercer
and Buxton, 2011).
Response
The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and a Victorian Bushfire Reconstruc- tion and Recovery Authority (VBRRA) were established in 2009 to coordinate whole-of-government rebuilding and recovery. An immediate governmental response
Figure 5. The catastrophic effect of the Black Saturday fires in the town of Marysville, February 2009
Source: Country Fire Authority.
 
was to develop a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating system in which homes are cate- gorised according to one of six bushfire levels, ranging from low to extreme, based on risk factors including the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index, the slope of land, and vegetation (Fisher, 2012). However, a key recommendation of the Royal Com- mission, compulsory buyback of properties at high risk (basically those along ridge lines), was changed to a voluntary scheme. A further recommendation to replace Victoria’s 100,000 kilometres of dangerous single-wire earth return power lines met with a similar fate, as a mixture of aerial-bundled and underground lines was adopted. The Royal Commission wanted all lines to run underground at an estimated cost of AUD 40 billion.
Among the responsibilities of the VBRRA—one of 30 community recovery com-
mittees established after the Black Saturday fires—was a range of initiatives and programmes to help affected communities, as well as a Rebuilding Together plan jointly financed by the federal and Victorian governments and donor contributions. Much of the infrastructure built as a result, though, has been underutilised and has incurred high maintenance costs, burdening local councils that have lower revenue bases owing to a loss of residential properties (Productivity Commission, Australian Government, 2014; ABC News, 2015). VBRRA was wound down in 2011 and its work transferred to other councils, departments, and community organisations.
Approximately 50 per cent of schoolchildren in the burnt areas were still suffer- ing from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by 2014 (ABC News, 2013). Teaching staff are not coping, owing to limited resources, or are not adequately qualified in psychological trauma and associated mental illnesses, resulting in crisis, burnout, and secondary trauma. Communities are struggling since there is no money left from the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund to support the psychological services needed to heal such disorders, which can take years to materialise.
No less daunting has been the emergence of ‘volunteer fatigue’. This has afflicted bushfire regions, sapping firefighters and other volunteer groups of their energy and motivation ( Jakab, 2012; see Box 2).
 
Interestingly, the community recovery committees that were set up after Black Saturday worked in collaboration with the Australian Red Cross. The objective was to develop ways in which the organisation might use its Lessons Learned by Community Recovery Committees of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires document (Australian Red Cross, 2011), complementing work being done to support community-led recovery in flood-affected communities of Queens- land. The state government there formed a Ministry of Disaster Recovery after dev- astating flooding in Brisbane in 2010.
Victoria has now appointed a disaster management commissioner, but few of its regional councils have people spe- cifically trained in and/or charged with disaster recovery or preparedness. This is especially the case if they are located in remote areas that so far have been spared catastrophic fires or flooding.
The experience of Black Saturday and the preventative measures developed sub- sequently, such as evacuation orders and text alerts, served to lessen, if not elim-
inate, deaths in the Tasmanian fires1 in January 2013 (during which some 1,000 people escaped by boat) and the early sea-
son fires in New South Wales in October 2013. However, given the density of settle- ment in fire-prone areas around Austral- ian cities, and the country’s propensity to experience the worst effects of climate change (IPCC, 2013), this accomplish- ment may be short-lived.
Box 3 lists 52 Victorian towns that the
state government identified in 2009 as vul- nerable to catastrophic bushfire. One of the towns, Kennett River, was destroyed by a bushfire in the Otway Ranges during Christmas 2015.
 
Discussion
Table 1 provides a simple compendium of the various disasters. It reveals that the scale of human loss in the developing world, with Sri Lanka as a reference point (Shaw et al., 2009), can be several orders of magnitude greater than that in the developed world, whereas the situation is likely to be reversed with regard to insured and uninsured losses. Furthermore, it shows that similar levels of preparedness occur in both categories.
US
Federal involvement, if any, extends only to recovery, not to economic development. New Orleans was the first place in the country to receive economic recovery funding through special congressional appropriation (Blakely, 2011). Some states, however, have sought to fill this void with locally developed recovery programmes.
Both the San Francisco Bay Area and now New York, for instance, have in place comprehensive preparatory, emergency response, and recovery strategies. While FEMA is now engaged in promoting disaster mitigation, in the wake of Sandy, it still plays a limited role in recovery. Certainly, the more preparedness measures that are undertaken the lesser the impact of a disaster and the shorter the recovery time.
A staggering 47 million homes, or 36 per cent of the population, are located  in
so-called WUIs, which account for 10 per cent of the country’s landmass. This makes them especially vulnerable to the rising incidence of wildfire—economic losses have already doubled as compared to the previous decade.
Australia
Authorities’ approaches to recovery usually have been organised around performance expenditure: many dollars spent on business recovery and home reconstruction, for instance, within a given time frame. This is in comparison to all of these items being linked in some coherent fashion.
At the individual state level, Queensland has been making some progress recently, although it confronts by far the biggest challenges and still has a long way to go. A Ministry for Community Recovery and Resilience has been created and is making inroads, investing more in disaster resilience, improving planning laws, supporting local government, and engaging with the insurance industry.
Meanwhile, Victoria has appointed a disaster management commissioner, but there has been a reluctance to date to invest public money in preparedness initiatives in bushfire-prone towns.
Across Australia only a handful of councils have developed recovery plans, among which are: Central Goldfields Shire Council (2013), especially for floods; Newcastle City Council (2012), especially for earthquakes; Central Highlands Regional Council (2011), especially for floods; and Tablelands Regional Council (2011), especially for
cyclones. These could serve as templates for integrated resilience and recovery man- uals applicable to small towns structured around any new data. Collaboration with
 
Table 1. Comparing disasters and responses: a summary of the basic   parameters
Place Event and date Death toll Damage Impact zone Post-disaster preparedness response Recovery Process
New York City and New Jersey, US Hurricane Sandy, October 2012 285 Extensive damage to infrastructure, including subways and substations. Some 400,000
homes destroyed Coastal, espe- cially small towns, retreats, and retirement villas Strong and detailed Well developed, new flood lines established out- side of which no federal flood insurance
Note: New York governor sets up NYS Respond Commission
Texas, US Tornado, April 2012 30 Extensive damage to homes and infrastructure Town scale Improved in the wake of the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado, espe- cially in schools Limited
Note: A shortage of safe rooms and shelters, especially in schools. This became a flash point for parents
Wildfire/heatwave, June–August 2012 4 Confined Rural Roadmap to preparedness Not known
Note: Triggered deadly outbreak of a variant of West Nile Disease
Victoria, Australia Bushfire, February 2009 173 450,000 hectares and more than 3,500 buildings
destroyed. 414 people injured and 7,562 others displaced Peri-urban Melbourne Text alerts and evacuation orders, inter alia. System now in place but reluctance by government to introduce more substan- tive but costly measures, such as underground power lines Somewhat piece- meal after the VBRRA was wound down.
Departmental replacements in particular found wanting in later floods
Note: Emergency services commissioner appointed along with a director of relief and recovery
Sri Lanka (benchmark) Tsunami,
26 December 2006 30,000 Damage to villages, farms, and railway lines and rolling-stock Coastal strip Government invested in restoring or establishing mangroves as coastal ‘green belts’, through the Mangroves for the Future programme Tsunami task force established, which evolved into a separate recov- ery organisation
Note: An impressive response by any standards
Source: authors.
 
the insurance industry, which has been assembling location-specific risk assessments (Suncorp Group, 2013), would also be a useful way to proceed.
No moves are afoot to have a national recovery authority; an initiative the previous federal Labor government was working towards (Council of Australian Govern- ments, 2011); but not one continued by the Conservative coalition elected in 2013. Nonetheless, there has been some reform: a report by the Productivity Commission, Australian Government (2014, p. 32) found that ‘governments overinvest in post- disaster reconstruction and underinvest in mitigation that would limit the impact of natural disasters in the first place. As such, natural disaster costs have become a grow- ing, unfunded liability for governments’. It goes on to recommend ‘a policy package across recovery and mitigation funding, budget treatment of recovery costs, and accountability requirements for all governments’ (Productivity Commission, Australian Government, 2014, pp. 37–43). Nonetheless, it will possibly take another event of the magnitude of Black Saturday to see a national organisation come into being.
Observations
Small, highly isolated towns with just one or two pillar economies can resemble developing countries in terms of disaster impacts. This is changing, though, in many places in Australia and the US. Populations are drifting towards regional centres and the fringes of large cities, which have their own inherent risks of cyclones, fires, floods, and hurricanes, yet faster internet connections. Hence, the deprivation arising from remoteness is lessening.
Certainly, expertise declines with remoteness. Preparedness–recovery manuals would assist the development of full-blown plans and the interchange of data/information between regional local governments. The insurance sector also is supplying products that recognise preparedness enacted by clients in the form of provisions for essentials
(Suncorp, 2015).
Furthermore, the experience and knowhow within international recovery agen- cies are largely untapped resources for developed countries; knowledge transfer through training and secondment programmes provide further channels. In this context, the Red Cross has been a significant conduit for the transmission of social recovery expertise. It has moved towards a far more comprehensive approach to responding to disasters.
The Australian Red Cross partnered with the Shire of Augusta–Margaret River in 2014 in encouraging residents to adopt a ‘shared responsibility’ approach to emergency preparedness (Australian Red Cross and Shire of Augusta–Margaret River, 2014). Below are some propositions derived from the cases reviewed for rural/small/non-
metro recovery:
Unfortunately, it seems that it might take a string of major disasters for govern- ments to start integrating disaster resilience and recovery into their legislative programmes in any meaningful way. The growing number of natural disasters,
 
coupled with diminishing return intervals under the influence of climate change, suggest that a rethink is overdue on where disaster response emphases should lie, especially in economically well-resourced countries given the rising incidence of large-scale disasters within them.
A focus on the hardening of places can provide a better return in limiting damage and hasten economic recovery should such sites (or their like) fall victim to extreme events again—especially via the suite of measures adopted by the NYS Respond Commission after Hurricane Sandy. In particular, vastly shortened event recurrence should mandate shifting settlements away from high-risk zones, such as flood- plains and shorefronts. The costs of not doing so are destined to cripple financially future governments and to impact markedly economic growth. The Productivity
Commission, Australian Government (2014, p. 33) has recommended that ‘Australian
Government post-disaster support to state and territory governments (states) should be reduced, and support for mitigation increased’.
Nonetheless, disasters can offer a one-off opportunity for renewal of a different kind, rather than more of the same. Examples are Kobe’s repositioning from a port to a high-technology-oriented economy after the earthquake in 1995, or New Orleans, Louisiana, reinventing itself as a centre for medical research after Hurri- cane Katrina in 2005. In addition, disasters provide an opening for the toughening of buildings and other infrastructure to withstand future events and even the embodiment of low carbon measures. Unfortunately, the application of these prin-
ciples to severely impoverished countries, such as Haiti, is highly problematic.
Correspondence
Professor Ed Blakely, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 20006, Australia. Telephone: +61 2 9867 5744; e-mail: Blakelyglobal@gmail.com
Endnotes
1 The Tasmanian fire emergency resulted in the destruction of 100 properties, including 65 at Dunalley, and the burning of more than 45,000 acres of bushland (The Guardian, 2013). Other fire zones were declared but the capacity to provide advanced risk reduction was hampered by the past practice of allowing people to stay until a disaster is well under way.
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Assessing non-metro recovery across two continents: issues and limitationsEdward J. Blakely Honorary Professor, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney, Australia, and Extraordinary Professor of Economic Policy, Vaal Triangle Campus, North-West University, South Africa, and Peter M.J. Fisher Adjunct Professor, School of Global, Urban, and Social Studies, RMIT University, Australia
Rural and remote areas of countries such as Australia and the United States are less well-resourced and often poorer than their city counterparts. When a disaster strikes, therefore, their long-term recovery can be impeded by being situated ‘over the horizon’. Nonetheless, they are likely to enjoy higher social capital, with ‘locals’ banding together to help restore economic and social life in the wake of a calamitous incident. At the same time, a repeat of extreme events, springing in part from alteration to the landscape through intense human occupation, threatens to derail sustainable recovery processes everywhere, suggesting that renewed emphasis needs to be placed on prepared- ness. Improved metrics are also required, spanning both pre- and post-disaster phases, to determine effectiveness. Moreover, a focus on the ‘hardening’ of towns offers a better return in limiting damage and potentially hastens the speed of recovery should these places later fall victim to extreme events.
Keywords: non-metro, preparedness, rescue and recovery, return intervals, rural, remote, and small fringe communities, social capital

IntroductionThe objective of this paper is to shed light on the critical issues that continue to con- front the rising number of rural, remote, and small fringe communities that have suffered large-scale disasters in recent years. These communities seem to be at the epicentre of many natural disasters, such as the destructive earthquakes and floods in countries such as Pakistan, Philippines, and Nepal. The impacts range from prop- erty and infrastructural damage (insured and uninsured losses), deaths and injuries, stock, crop, and other agricultural losses, and the destruction of wildlife habitats and even iconic landscapes. Climate-related disasters alone are predicted to affect some 375 million people in 2015, up from 263 million in 2010 (Ashdown, 2013).Small places are less able to respond quickly to disasters because they are not critical parts of the global economic infrastructure and they have a less powerful political voice. Moreover, they have less capacity to tap into the human capital and material resources found in larger, more recognised seats of government.

MethodsThis paper is based on observations stemming from close analysis of recovery in sev- eral non-metropolitan areas of which the authors have first-hand knowledge.  The
© 2016 The Author(s). Disasters © Overseas Development Institute, 2016Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA 

research approach is grounded in policy analysis frameworks honed by Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky (1979, p. xxiii), in which they assert that: ‘The study of imple- mentation (projects, programs and issues related to rebuilding) requires understanding that apparently simple sequences of events depend on complex chains of reciprocal interaction’. Moreover, they show that a case or a set of cases yields better understand- ing of the policy flaws that underpin action or inaction.This evaluation follows the grounded theory approach developed by Strauss and Corbin (1994), from which it derives action propositions. Policy concepts emerge from the case-study information, avoiding the application of hypothetical constructs. Generalisations materialise based on inferences from the cases, generating insights into observed issues and phenomena. This approach is employed because there is no systematic cross-national data that disaster management specialists can use to form basic rubrics to forge implementation strategies or to create policy frameworks (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, 1994).

Understanding disastersThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2012, p. 5) offers the fol- lowing working definition of a disaster:
Severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material, economic, or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs and that may require external support for recovery.
The impact of a single event can be compounded by the triggering of one or two further catastrophic incidents, such as the mudslide in Chile in 2010, which followed torrential rain, or the pernicious sequence of drought, heatwave, wildfire—the hotter it gets, the drier it gets, and so on and so forth—experienced in Australia in 2009 (see Figure 1) and the United States in 2012 and 2013, posing a threat to water security (Schär et al., 2004).The primary event can also have ‘lag impacts’, such as disease caused by flood- waters affecting sanitation and spillage into soils. The fires in Canberra, Australia, in January 2003, for instance, led to the pollution of the city’s water supply, with poly aromatic hydrocarbons following torrential rain across its catchments. Water authori- ties, made wiser by this event, acted to protect Melbourne’s drinking water after Black Saturday on 7 February 2009 by sending water from dams in fire-affected catchments to those that were not affected via established  pipelines/aqueducts.Of course, natural or man-made disasters that affect crops, farms, vineyards, and other agriculture or agricultural supports have long-term implications for food produc- tion and security. Disruptions, therefore, have far-reaching implications for national accounts as well. 

Figure 1. The fire in Murrindindi, Victoria, Australia, February    2009Notes: the sinister trappings of the Murrindindi fire in the ranges beyond Healesville on Black Saturday, 7 February 2009.Source: Rosemary Langmaid.

Distinguishing between response and recoveryTwo distinct post-disaster phases can be identified: response/relief; and recovery/ rebuilding. The former may not always see people stranded or stuck, as, for example, with an oil spill. Rebuilding clearly is an intrinsic part of recovery, but recovery also necessitates social and cultural rehabilitation.Furthermore, the distinction between rescue/emergency/response and recovery/ rebuilding is sensitive to the country in question: the recovery phase in developed countries may not begin until the response phase has run its course. During the BlackSaturday bushfires in Kinglake and Marysville, Australia, in 2009, for instance, thecoroner had to complete her work first, which took several weeks. Consequently, there can be short- and longer-term responses, such as only rebuilding in less vulnerable places, or not doing so at all.

Can recovery be defined and measured accurately?The Association of Bay Area Governments (2010, p. 3) in California has defined long- term recovery as ‘a process of restoring a community to a stable and functional state, 

Figure 2. Relief operations in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, after Hurricane Sandy, October 2012Source: author (Edward Blakely).
given the inevitable changes that result from a major disaster’. Repairing, replacing, or rebuilding property are examples of such recovery. Yet, it remains important to have a way or ways of tracking recovery. Traditional benchmarks, such as per- capita gross domestic product, population growth, unemployment, and health- and education-related outcomes, including infant mortality and high school graduation rates, rarely are available at the town scale, and those that are, lack a sufficient cross section. Furthermore, owing to the overlay of macroeconomic decline affecting some towns it may be difficult to come up with broad baseline data against which improve- ments can be measured—that is, depressed rural areas may seek to recover beyond their pre-disaster state.The process used to organise recovery after the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995provides a developmental model for measuring progress towards recovery goals (Hayashi, 2011). In particular, Hyogo Prefecture was able to meet three key numerical targets: to rebuild all damaged housing units in three years; to remove all temporary housing within five years; and to complete physical recovery in 10 years. According to Hayashi (2007, p. 415), ‘having numerical targets was critical to directing and motivating all the stakeholders, including the national government’s investment, and it proved to be the foundation for Japan’s fundamental approach to recovery following 

the 1995 earthquake’. Anglin (2011) sheds further light on the issue by presenting a checklist pertaining to social infrastructure critical to the affected region. For instance: ‘Are major institutions involved in community decisions?’; ‘Is the local culture con- ducive to the economic adaptation?’; and ‘Has local government created a fiscal and legal basis for growth?’. Similarly, Voith (2011) has outlined the practical means that can be deployed to rate the success or otherwise of economic recovery. And Pressman and Wildavsky (1979) emphasise, in relation to successful implementation, that an ever-increasing circle of parties add complexity, introduce delays, and ultimately diffuse recovery goals.

Defining a non-metro as opposed to a metro areaNon-metro areas are affected, for instance, by drought—a creeping disaster—far more than their city counterparts, changing the configuration of the landscape deeply and sharply for years subsequently. Moreover, they alter animal habitats and prevent the presence of some crops and animals, such as cattle and sheep, disrupting the eco- nomic life of many communities that lie near or in the midst of these zones. This form of hardship is something that city dwellers usually only experience in terms of food prices or water restrictions. For non-metro areas, by contrast, the entire life- cycle and ecosystem can be set back for countless years. Moreover, rural areas are pre- dominant on lists of the most costly weather-related disasters (see Box 1).A simple dichotomy between rural and city, though, is becoming blurred around the edges, particularly in the developed world where once isolated regions are undergoing ‘urbanisation’ (Salt, 2012). ‘Sea- and tree-changers’ are moving from cities in Australia and the western US to storm-surge or fire-prone non-metro and peri-urban areas in unprecedented numbers, vis-à-vis ‘wild–urban interfaces’ (WUIs) (Rif kin, 2014).

 

These are not ‘rural and remote areas’ in the traditional sense; rather, they enjoy close connections with cities that can buffer them partially from the worst economic effects of a disaster. At the same time, however, they can be more hazardous places in which to live. In particular, the way in which new dwellings are situated on the landscape creates a greater fire hazard, since flames can spread deeply into treed areas. Furthermore, residences frequently are away from good roads, making them harder to access and fires harder to deal with when they emerge. New inhabitants also can alter vegetation and wildlife patterns with marked impacts on the potential for fire and flooding—they have little feel for the ecology owing to being in city workplaces for much of the day. Lastly, city-siders can bring bad habits, such as ‘staying and fighting’, heightening the risks to fire and rescue personnel, and not knowing how to evacuate properly or where to go.This ‘connectedness’ also plays out at a smaller scale in places that, while distant from big cities, are within easy reach of large regional centres (see Figure 3). In addition, high-speed internet is acting to limit the sense of isolation. Proximity to larger places, however, does not always mean that a community will be better posi-tioned to weather the worst ramifications of a disaster in comparison to its more remote counterparts, as seen along parts of the New Jersey coast hit hard by Hurricane Sandy (owing to inadequate roads and old sewerage systems).
Figure 3. Flooding in Carisbrook, Victoria, Australia, January    2011Note: This small town is a rural settlement that nowadays is an outlier of the manufacturing and service centre of Maryborough in the Shire of Central  Goldfields.Source: Central Goldfields Shire  Council. 

Nevertheless, there are still truly remote, isolated places where the local economy may be composed of little more than one or two ‘industries’. Examples include the Australian towns of Marysville in central Victoria (retail and hospitality), Wilcannia in the west of New South Wales (arts and crafts), and Malanda and Milla Milla (sugar) in north Queensland. The economic resilience of these towns is wafer  thin.Social cohesiveness, pivotal to the pace of recovery, rises as one progresses down this hierarchy. By contrast, towns situated within the urban fields of major cities can be expected to have less cohesiveness with tree-change residents often regarding them as places to bed down at night or on a weekend. In the wake of a disaster, many may decide to pack up and return to the city.

Case studies across two continentsFew countries in the developed world have chosen so far to establish standing national recovery programmes or authorities, despite a litany of cyclones, floods, hurricanes, super storms, tornadoes, and wildfires (Burby, 2006). Curiously, some of the more profound examples of national intervention are to be found in developing countries. The following subsections of the paper examine a number of recent disasters in the rural US and Australia to rate the differing recovery responses of governments andnon-governmental organisations (NGOs).
USEvent 1The southwest of the US has become the site of multiple disasters in recent years, notably the major tornado in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex on 3 April 2012.ResponseA Tornado Recovery Center was established following this tornado, offering low- interest federal disaster loans. Provisions included repair/rebuilding guidelines/emer- gency home repair assistance and a free tree supply. In addition, a recovery effort site and a weather alert system came into being.Event 2A double disaster occurred in Texas between June and August 2012. A severe drought and ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ conditions in much of the state led to a cascade of large-scale wildfires, as well as the outbreak of a deadly variant of West Nile Disease.ResponseThe reinsurance company, United, set up help/expertise internet links, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offered support to communities for rescue and disaster mitigation. FEMA provides a wide range of services, such as promoting mitigation and preparedness, sponsoring studies that reduce the effects of 

natural disasters through engineering measures, and encouraging building away from floodplains, seismically active areas, and hillsides and wetlands. It advocates as well ‘safe development’ practices, but these have become ensnared in a patchwork of fed- eral, state, and local regulations. FEMA’s mission, though, is not long-term recovery, but rescue and avoiding or lessening the load in this respect through mitigation. Recovery is left to state agencies and local governments. An impressive example is the Regional Disaster Resilience Initiative of the Association of Bay Area Govern- ments (2013), stemming from earthquakes and fires in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is not only a planning tool, but also encompasses ready-to-go provisions in the aftermath of an event. Interestingly, the strategy stems from a grouping of local gov- ernments, rather than from the state level.Event 3Hurricane Sandy struck the entire eastern seaboard of the US (and Canada) in October 2012, hitting New Jersey and New York especially hard (Tollefson, 2013a). A storm surge in New York City on 29 October flooded streets, tunnels, and subway lines (Yaro and Kooris, 2012) and cut power in and around the metropolitan area. Small towns along the northeast coast of the US, comprising recreational and retirement areas and retreats, were also badly affected. For instance, tidal surge overwhelmed the 50 kilometres of waterways in the town of Moonachie, located 25 kilometres west of New York City, engulfing streets with rushing water and forcing people to take immediate alternative shelter. A few communities along the New Jersey coast, which had become full-time living areas over the past two dec- ades (see Figure 4), were devastated. Nearly 40,000 people were left without homes
Figure 4. Flood damage caused to seafront homes in Queens, New York, by Hurricane Sandy,  October 2012Source: author (Edward Blakely). 

and in some cases with little buildable land for reconstructing them. They lacked the stronger, well-developed infrastructure of most urban areas: some still have small sewerage plants designed for part-year residences and road networks that were never intended for regular year-round traffic.Damage in the US as a whole amounted to USD 65 billion.ResponseThe Senate passed the USD 50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill and President Barack Obama signed it into law in late January 2013. In addition, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on 15 November 2012 the creation of three bodies—the NYS 2100 Commission, the NYS Ready Commission, and the NYS Respond Commission—to review comprehensively and to make specific recommenda- tions on the overhaul of the state’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities. The state also made provision for another super storm within two years. New York City, for instance, is upgrading its water system, shifting the focus from new dams or silt traps to managing reservoirs using software that automatically incor- porates short-term weather forecasts and seasonal climatic predictions. This will help water managers to address droughts and floods (Tollefson, 2013b). Meanwhile, Staten Island (one of the five boroughs of New York City) has initiated a property buy- back scheme in line with a federal initiative to reduce the density of low-lying coastal populations. Properties no longer qualify (since 2014) for coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program unless they are two metres above the new storm surge flood level. If they do not meet this benchmark they face insurance premium hikes of between USD 20,000 and 150,000 per year. This policy to protect businesses, houses, and key infrastructure applies to at least 350 counties across the country, extending from Dallas, TX, and Nashville, TN, to Denver, CO, and Tulsa, OK (White House, 2015). Furthermore, Indiana, Montana, New York, and Wisconsin have adopted state-wide standards that either meet or exceed this new federal standard. New businesses have sprung up to raise houses, insulating them from destruction in the short term, but not against expected sea-level rise in the long term. In addition, Klein (2014, p. 44) notes how ‘new luxury real estate developments are marketing private disaster infrastructure to would-be residents—everything from emergency lighting to natural-gas-powered pumps and generators to thirteen-foot floodgates and water- tight rooms sealed “submarine-style”, in the case of a new Manhattan condominium’.
AustraliaEvent 1The Black Saturday fires that razed Melbourne’s peri-urban areas and other parts of the state of Victoria on 7 February 2009 claimed the lives of 173 people and an esti- mated one million animals. They ravished 450,000 hectares of land, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings, and injured 414 people and displaced 7,562 others. The McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index on that day was 300, making for a contagion equivalent to the destructive effect of 15 Hiroshima atomic blasts. Many of the burnt-out homes 

were along ridge lines with once spectacular views (Fisher, 2012). The intensity of the heat in parts of Marysville was such that some houses literally exploded (see Figure 5). Interestingly, a Country Fire Authority firefighter in the town on that night promoted the practice of shutting tight all doors and windows. When the radiant heat finally arrived in vast quantities, the aluminium window frames expanded, popping the glass panes, and allowing the inferno to rush inside—like an egg in a microwave oven. The problem was that the expansion coincided (in both length and height) with the onset of the flames.The Victorian town of Marysville was all but destroyed by the fires. One-half of jobs were in just two sectors, hospitality and the retail trade, and the magnets, the guest houses, and the nostalgia associated with its Edwardian and Victorian build- ings on the main street were decimated, rather than simply damaged as in a flood. The ‘catastrophic’ fire danger rating for the northern edge of Melbourne is pro- jected to shift from the current 1-in-33-year frequency level to 1-in-3 by 2050 (Mercerand Buxton, 2011).ResponseThe Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and a Victorian Bushfire Reconstruc- tion and Recovery Authority (VBRRA) were established in 2009 to coordinate whole-of-government rebuilding and recovery. An immediate governmental response
Figure 5. The catastrophic effect of the Black Saturday fires in the town of Marysville, February 2009Source: Country Fire Authority. 

was to develop a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating system in which homes are cate- gorised according to one of six bushfire levels, ranging from low to extreme, based on risk factors including the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index, the slope of land, and vegetation (Fisher, 2012). However, a key recommendation of the Royal Com- mission, compulsory buyback of properties at high risk (basically those along ridge lines), was changed to a voluntary scheme. A further recommendation to replace Victoria’s 100,000 kilometres of dangerous single-wire earth return power lines met with a similar fate, as a mixture of aerial-bundled and underground lines was adopted. The Royal Commission wanted all lines to run underground at an estimated cost of AUD 40 billion.Among the responsibilities of the VBRRA—one of 30 community recovery com-mittees established after the Black Saturday fires—was a range of initiatives and programmes to help affected communities, as well as a Rebuilding Together plan jointly financed by the federal and Victorian governments and donor contributions. Much of the infrastructure built as a result, though, has been underutilised and has incurred high maintenance costs, burdening local councils that have lower revenue bases owing to a loss of residential properties (Productivity Commission, Australian Government, 2014; ABC News, 2015). VBRRA was wound down in 2011 and its work transferred to other councils, departments, and community organisations.Approximately 50 per cent of schoolchildren in the burnt areas were still suffer- ing from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by 2014 (ABC News, 2013). Teaching staff are not coping, owing to limited resources, or are not adequately qualified in psychological trauma and associated mental illnesses, resulting in crisis, burnout, and secondary trauma. Communities are struggling since there is no money left from the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund to support the psychological services needed to heal such disorders, which can take years to materialise.No less daunting has been the emergence of ‘volunteer fatigue’. This has afflicted bushfire regions, sapping firefighters and other volunteer groups of their energy and motivation ( Jakab, 2012; see Box 2).
 

Interestingly, the community recovery committees that were set up after Black Saturday worked in collaboration with the Australian Red Cross. The objective was to develop ways in which the organisation might use its Lessons Learned by Community Recovery Committees of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires document (Australian Red Cross, 2011), complementing work being done to support community-led recovery in flood-affected communities of Queens- land. The state government there formed a Ministry of Disaster Recovery after dev- astating flooding in Brisbane in 2010.Victoria has now appointed a disaster management commissioner, but few of its regional councils have people spe- cifically trained in and/or charged with disaster recovery or preparedness. This is especially the case if they are located in remote areas that so far have been spared catastrophic fires or flooding.The experience of Black Saturday and the preventative measures developed sub- sequently, such as evacuation orders and text alerts, served to lessen, if not elim-inate, deaths in the Tasmanian fires1 in January 2013 (during which some 1,000 people escaped by boat) and the early sea-son fires in New South Wales in October 2013. However, given the density of settle- ment in fire-prone areas around Austral- ian cities, and the country’s propensity to experience the worst effects of climate change (IPCC, 2013), this accomplish- ment may be short-lived.Box 3 lists 52 Victorian towns that thestate government identified in 2009 as vul- nerable to catastrophic bushfire. One of the towns, Kennett River, was destroyed by a bushfire in the Otway Ranges during Christmas 2015. 

DiscussionTable 1 provides a simple compendium of the various disasters. It reveals that the scale of human loss in the developing world, with Sri Lanka as a reference point (Shaw et al., 2009), can be several orders of magnitude greater than that in the developed world, whereas the situation is likely to be reversed with regard to insured and uninsured losses. Furthermore, it shows that similar levels of preparedness occur in both categories.
USFederal involvement, if any, extends only to recovery, not to economic development. New Orleans was the first place in the country to receive economic recovery funding through special congressional appropriation (Blakely, 2011). Some states, however, have sought to fill this void with locally developed recovery programmes.Both the San Francisco Bay Area and now New York, for instance, have in place comprehensive preparatory, emergency response, and recovery strategies. While FEMA is now engaged in promoting disaster mitigation, in the wake of Sandy, it still plays a limited role in recovery. Certainly, the more preparedness measures that are undertaken the lesser the impact of a disaster and the shorter the recovery time.A staggering 47 million homes, or 36 per cent of the population, are located  inso-called WUIs, which account for 10 per cent of the country’s landmass. This makes them especially vulnerable to the rising incidence of wildfire—economic losses have already doubled as compared to the previous decade.
AustraliaAuthorities’ approaches to recovery usually have been organised around performance expenditure: many dollars spent on business recovery and home reconstruction, for instance, within a given time frame. This is in comparison to all of these items being linked in some coherent fashion.At the individual state level, Queensland has been making some progress recently, although it confronts by far the biggest challenges and still has a long way to go. A Ministry for Community Recovery and Resilience has been created and is making inroads, investing more in disaster resilience, improving planning laws, supporting local government, and engaging with the insurance industry.Meanwhile, Victoria has appointed a disaster management commissioner, but there has been a reluctance to date to invest public money in preparedness initiatives in bushfire-prone towns.Across Australia only a handful of councils have developed recovery plans, among which are: Central Goldfields Shire Council (2013), especially for floods; Newcastle City Council (2012), especially for earthquakes; Central Highlands Regional Council (2011), especially for floods; and Tablelands Regional Council (2011), especially forcyclones. These could serve as templates for integrated resilience and recovery man- uals applicable to small towns structured around any new data. Collaboration with 

Table 1. Comparing disasters and responses: a summary of the basic   parameters
Place Event and date Death toll Damage Impact zone Post-disaster preparedness response Recovery ProcessNew York City and New Jersey, US Hurricane Sandy, October 2012 285 Extensive damage to infrastructure, including subways and substations. Some 400,000homes destroyed Coastal, espe- cially small towns, retreats, and retirement villas Strong and detailed Well developed, new flood lines established out- side of which no federal flood insurance Note: New York governor sets up NYS Respond CommissionTexas, US Tornado, April 2012 30 Extensive damage to homes and infrastructure Town scale Improved in the wake of the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado, espe- cially in schools Limited Note: A shortage of safe rooms and shelters, especially in schools. This became a flash point for parents Wildfire/heatwave, June–August 2012 4 Confined Rural Roadmap to preparedness Not known Note: Triggered deadly outbreak of a variant of West Nile DiseaseVictoria, Australia Bushfire, February 2009 173 450,000 hectares and more than 3,500 buildingsdestroyed. 414 people injured and 7,562 others displaced Peri-urban Melbourne Text alerts and evacuation orders, inter alia. System now in place but reluctance by government to introduce more substan- tive but costly measures, such as underground power lines Somewhat piece- meal after the VBRRA was wound down.Departmental replacements in particular found wanting in later floods Note: Emergency services commissioner appointed along with a director of relief and recoverySri Lanka (benchmark) Tsunami,26 December 2006 30,000 Damage to villages, farms, and railway lines and rolling-stock Coastal strip Government invested in restoring or establishing mangroves as coastal ‘green belts’, through the Mangroves for the Future programme Tsunami task force established, which evolved into a separate recov- ery organisation Note: An impressive response by any standardsSource: authors. 

the insurance industry, which has been assembling location-specific risk assessments (Suncorp Group, 2013), would also be a useful way to proceed.No moves are afoot to have a national recovery authority; an initiative the previous federal Labor government was working towards (Council of Australian Govern- ments, 2011); but not one continued by the Conservative coalition elected in 2013. Nonetheless, there has been some reform: a report by the Productivity Commission, Australian Government (2014, p. 32) found that ‘governments overinvest in post- disaster reconstruction and underinvest in mitigation that would limit the impact of natural disasters in the first place. As such, natural disaster costs have become a grow- ing, unfunded liability for governments’. It goes on to recommend ‘a policy package across recovery and mitigation funding, budget treatment of recovery costs, and accountability requirements for all governments’ (Productivity Commission, Australian Government, 2014, pp. 37–43). Nonetheless, it will possibly take another event of the magnitude of Black Saturday to see a national organisation come into being.

ObservationsSmall, highly isolated towns with just one or two pillar economies can resemble developing countries in terms of disaster impacts. This is changing, though, in many places in Australia and the US. Populations are drifting towards regional centres and the fringes of large cities, which have their own inherent risks of cyclones, fires, floods, and hurricanes, yet faster internet connections. Hence, the deprivation arising from remoteness is lessening.Certainly, expertise declines with remoteness. Preparedness–recovery manuals would assist the development of full-blown plans and the interchange of data/information between regional local governments. The insurance sector also is supplying products that recognise preparedness enacted by clients in the form of provisions for essentials(Suncorp, 2015).Furthermore, the experience and knowhow within international recovery agen- cies are largely untapped resources for developed countries; knowledge transfer through training and secondment programmes provide further channels. In this context, the Red Cross has been a significant conduit for the transmission of social recovery expertise. It has moved towards a far more comprehensive approach to responding to disasters.The Australian Red Cross partnered with the Shire of Augusta–Margaret River in 2014 in encouraging residents to adopt a ‘shared responsibility’ approach to emergency preparedness (Australian Red Cross and Shire of Augusta–Margaret River, 2014). Below are some propositions derived from the cases reviewed for rural/small/non-metro recovery:
Unfortunately, it seems that it might take a string of major disasters for govern- ments to start integrating disaster resilience and recovery into their legislative programmes in any meaningful way. The growing number of natural disasters, 

coupled with diminishing return intervals under the influence of climate change, suggest that a rethink is overdue on where disaster response emphases should lie, especially in economically well-resourced countries given the rising incidence of large-scale disasters within them.• A focus on the hardening of places can provide a better return in limiting damage and hasten economic recovery should such sites (or their like) fall victim to extreme events again—especially via the suite of measures adopted by the NYS Respond Commission after Hurricane Sandy. In particular, vastly shortened event recurrence should mandate shifting settlements away from high-risk zones, such as flood- plains and shorefronts. The costs of not doing so are destined to cripple financially future governments and to impact markedly economic growth. The ProductivityCommission, Australian Government (2014, p. 33) has recommended that ‘AustralianGovernment post-disaster support to state and territory governments (states) should be reduced, and support for mitigation increased’.• Nonetheless, disasters can offer a one-off opportunity for renewal of a different kind, rather than more of the same. Examples are Kobe’s repositioning from a port to a high-technology-oriented economy after the earthquake in 1995, or New Orleans, Louisiana, reinventing itself as a centre for medical research after Hurri- cane Katrina in 2005. In addition, disasters provide an opening for the toughening of buildings and other infrastructure to withstand future events and even the embodiment of low carbon measures. Unfortunately, the application of these prin-ciples to severely impoverished countries, such as Haiti, is highly problematic.

CorrespondenceProfessor Ed Blakely, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 20006, Australia. Telephone: +61 2 9867 5744; e-mail: Blakelyglobal@gmail.com

Endnotes1 The Tasmanian fire emergency resulted in the destruction of 100 properties, including 65 at Dunalley, and the burning of more than 45,000 acres of bushland (The Guardian, 2013). Other fire zones were declared but the capacity to provide advanced risk reduction was hampered by the past practice of allowing people to stay until a disaster is well under way.


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